HC Deb 21 May 1930 vol 239 cc481-537

Postponed Proceeding resumed on Question proposed on Consideration of Question, That a sum, not exceeding £1,332,310, be granted to His Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1931, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Expenses under the Agricultural Wages (Regulation) Act, 1924, a Grant under the Agricultural Credits Act, 1928, Loans to Co-operative Marketing Societies, Grants for Agricultural Education and Research, Grants for Eradication of Tuberculosis in Cattle, Grants for Land Improvement, Grants-in-Aid of the Small Holdings Account, and other Grants including certain Grants-in-Aid; and the Salaries and Expenses of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

Question again proposed, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,332,210, be granted for the said Service."


I was saying, when our proceedings were interrupted, that I opposed the reduction of this Vote, and I am bound to express my surprise that such a reduction should be moved on the merits of the case. In the judgment of all quarters of the House, the administrative work of the Ministry has been carried out in so efficient and progressive a manner as to merit general approval, and, therefore, I was somewhat surprised that the hon. and gallant Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) should wish to move a reduction.

The proceedings on this Vote provide for those of us who have come to the House of Commons from agricultural constituencies, the opportunity of expressing approval or disapproval of the Ministry's work, and I am bound to say, as a county administrator and a member of an agricultural committee for many years, that in my judgment there never was a time when the Ministry was more sympathetic or more definitely determined to associate itself with all forms of progressive work helpful to the development of the agricultural and horticultural industry in this country. It seems to me that, in such a precarious and difficult time as that through which the industry is undoubtedly passing, we cannot attach too much importance to this aspect of the work of the Ministry. It was my privilege on Saturday last to preside over a large meeting of horticulturists and fruit growers in the City of Norwich, when the Ministry's representative gave a lecture on the National Mark and methods of marketing; and, after all the doleful expressions that we have heard in this House in relation to the industry, it was refreshing on that occasion to discover a note of marked hopefulness, and almost of enthusiasm, on the horticultural side, in their determination to make the very best of the industry that is possible in existing circumstances. We were fortified very considerably by the admirable advice and guidance that the Ministry's representative was able to give.

Not only on the administrative side of this work would one wish to make a remark or two on the horticultural aspect but I should like to comment upon the attitude taken by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) in regard to his somewhat unexpected attack on this side of the House in relation to the question of the public ownership of land. To many of us who have been associated with administering the Smallholdings Act which the right hon. Gentleman's Friends passed in 1908—I have been on the Committee in my county administering that Act ever since—it was a matter of very real surprise to find him putting in a protest against the principle of the public ownership of land. We have 27,000 acres in Norfolk run under public ownership under the direct control of the county public authority and, with some 2,500 tenants, so far as the financial position is concerned, and the rentals due from time to time we have found only 2 per cent. which have been actual failures with regard to that side of the work. Having regard to the depressed condition of the industry as a whole, we who believe in the principle of public control may congratulate ourselves that at least the tenants under that system are doing as well as those who are under private ownership.

I rather regret that we should cross swords so often in a controversial manner in regard to these two principles. It seems to me that, especially in connection with this great industry, without either party departing from its own principles and outlook, in a great national industry of this description, of its size and importance, second to none in the country, having regard to the work that those engaged in the industry did during the years between 1914 and 1918, remembering that when the men from the countryside were giving their lives, and many of their women folk were at home helping to produce food to keep the country from famine when our food ships were being sunk by submarines in many seas, we should at least be able as a national assembly to bring our minds down to the impartial task of facing this position on the bare merits of the starved condition of the industry as it exists to-day.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) has appealed for a conference of all parties, and the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) has to-night put his veto on behalf of his party upon any such idea. One's experience of that method of approach to the problem is rather towards the feeling that, whatever Government is in power, it must take the ultimate responsibility for any policy that is passed, and whether it fails or whether it succeeds, upon that Government the other parties will place the blame, and if possible claim the credit for themselves if it happens to be a success. It does not matter much who gets the credit or who gets the criticism. I do not suppose, whatever is done, the British farmer will ever be completely satisfied. [An HON. MEMBER: "Why not?"] I do not know why not, but possibly he could give an answer if you could only get him in the mind to tell you.

I want to associate myself with the very definite expressions on all sides of the House as to the parlous condition of the arable side of British agriculture. I should like to appeal to the Minister to see to it that the utmost elasticity is given to every administrative power he possesses to give the industry the fullest possible benefit. Notwithstanding the constant leaning of hon. Members opposite towards a certain definite reactionary policy in relation to the future, it appears to me that, if we concentrate upon the problem of securing a just, economic price for the food grown in this country, it can be achieved through marketing and control along lines which need not be accompanied by anything in the nature of a tariff. I hope, as the result of this discussion, the House will grow still more courageous in demanding at the earliest possible moment a more definite declaration of a practical character to put our industry, on the arable side especially, upon a sound financial basis.

Major ROSS

It is clear that the hon. Member who has just spoken is engaged in the horticultural branch of agriculture, because no one could have handed a bouquet to the Minister with better grace than he has done. I wish to direct attention to a portion of the United Kingdom which is predominantly agricultural, but whose interests seldom come to the forefront of the House. Northern Ireland is an agricultural district of smallholdings. The average farm there is a small one. Eighty-five per cent. of them are under 50 acres. The farmers are not subject to a landlord. They have temporarily the State as their landlord in many cases, but they are in the process of becoming owners of their own farms. It is peculiarly situated as regards the arable side of agriculture in that we are devoted almost entirely to two crops, oats and potatoes. The production of wheat and barley is negligible, less than 1 per cent., which is entirely consumed in Northern Ireland. The production of oats covers 340,000 acres and produces over 5,700,000 cwt., and of potatoes, 167,000 acres and over 1,100,000 tons. Agriculture in this area reached its high water mark in many parts of the country in 1918, when it had got back to the standard set in 1882 as regards the large amount of land that was under tillage. When one comes to compare that state of affairs with the state of affairs now, there is a very marked difference, because the area under tillage at present is 34 per cent. less than the area that was under cultivation in 1918. That 34 per cent. has either gone completely out of cultivation or has been turned into pasture. Most of us who are interested in agriculture deplore that this land should pass—


I am not quite sure what point, the hon. and gallant Gentleman has in view. The Minister of Agriculture does not control agriculture in Northern Ireland. I understand that Northern Ireland has its own Minister of Agriculture and does not come under this Vote.

Major ROSS

There is certainly a Minister of Agriculture in Northern Ireland, but his powers are entirely restricted to such things as he can do within the area. All questions dealing with the marketing of British agriculture as a whole, and all questions of agricultural products being sold within the United Kingdom, come under the Minister of Agriculture who is responsible to this House. I have myself formed one of deputations, exclusively Irish, who have interviewed the Minister upon the question of policy which I propose to raise as soon as I have sufficiently prepared the argument to make that matter appropriate. I am not going into any details that are touched by the Minister of Agriculture of Northern Ireland as far as I can avoid it.


That is the point I wanted to ascertain. The hon. and gallant Gentleman must confine his remarks to such matters as come within the purview of the Minister of Agriculture responsible for this Vote.

8.0. p.m.

Major ROSS

Precisely, and I hope to be able to do so. The ambit of my speech is more circumscribed than that of many who have spoken, but I hope to keep within it. I should like to develop the question as to the selling price of oats and potatoes. Wheat and oats are at present selling at from 6s. to 7s. a quarter, compared with 8s. to 9s. last year, and in 1925 up to 9s. 11d. Potatoes, which cost £3 a ton to produce, are practically unsaleable. They are selling at £1 to £1 10s. if they are sold at, all. It must work out at a crushing loss of something like £14 an acre, because you require to spend a large amount in wages in the production of potatoes. Those farmers who have bought their seeds and manures on credit, having been unable to sell these two products of their industry, are in a very desperate position. The question as to the sale of these commodities is one which the Minister can do very much to improve, and it is in order to bring to his notice some of the ways in which I think he can help matters that I am addressing the Committee. I do not know whether the question of the importation of oats from the Continent has been alluded to as fully as it deserves, because to the oat-producing districts it is a matter of extreme seriousness. You have, as regards the consumption of oats, a smaller quantity required nearly every year, because, oats being used not so much for human consumption as for food for horses, as horses go off the road and are replaced by motors, the demand for oats gradually decreases; and it ought to be the particular care of the Minister of Agriculture to take every step to support the price of oats, bearing in mind also that there are many areas where only oats can be grown. Being the hardiest of all our cereals, you are often precluded on bad lands and in high country from growing anything else. It is rather a serious situation when one considers that for 1 cwt. of German oats imported in 1927 something like 16 cwts. are imported now.


I am still unable to connect the hon. and gallant Member's speech with the jurisdiction of the Minister of Agriculture.

Major ROSS

It surely has this connection, that, as regards the importation of any agricultural commodity into the United Kingdom, it can go without any interference from one part of it to another, because the whole area of the United Kingdom is a fiscal entity, and therefore it is impossible for the Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland to take any independent step in that matter. I was going to inquire—and with hopes that perhaps the right hon. Gentleman can say something about this later—as to how far he is working in liaison with the Minister of Agriculture for Northern Ireland, and how far the two Ministries are working hand in hand to protect the interests of the people in Northern Ireland who are engaged in arable agriculture from the very serious disadvantages which they are facing.

In addition to the importation of oats, there is the question of potatoes. I am saved the trouble of dealing at any great length with that question, because the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Mr. Blindell) dealt quite adequately with that question, and so I hesitate to address myself to that topic beyond saying this, that I think it is a subject for just criticism of the Minister's method of dealing with the subject that he has been so markedly unsuccessful in his negotiations with Canada and the United States of America. While in this country potatoes were selling at from 10s. to £1 per ton, as I understand it, in Canada and the United States the price of potatoes had risen to something like £18 a ton, and the British grower was precluded from importing potatoes into those countries because there was an absolute prohibition upon them. I would like to know whether it was not possible, by some bargaining method, to have got that prohibition relaxed. I know the Minister engaged in negotiations and made representations on that topic, but were they made with sufficient force, and were we not able to bargain a little better to try to get this prohibition modified, at all events in respect of those potatoes which could be certified by the Government of this country as being free from any taint or possibility of infection?

I will also ask the right hon. Gentleman to be a little strict in his own exercise of prohibitions on imported foreign potatoes. It is very hard for anyone not connected with imported potatoes to know whether or not they are infected cargoes, but there seems to be a certain amount of potato disease in France and some other countries, and practically never do we hear of orders being severely carried out to keep foreign potatoes from our markets. I cannot, as I would like, allude to the legislative measures which I think would be desirable to improve the lot of the farming community, but I think more might be done by administrative action in order to prevent the market for oats being flooded by oats produced under a bounty-fed system. A very small extra quantity of oats put on our congested market must produce a supply exceeding the demand, and that is why the price has dropped in such a catastrophic way. I would also urge the right hon. Gentleman to make further efforts, with the assistance of other Members of the Government, to prevent British potatoes being shut out from the American markets in the way that they have been this year.


I take part in this Debate as an urbanized citizen with some trepidation, but my excuse is that I think, with hon. and right hon. Members opposite, that this subject is one of the utmost importance to the welfare of our country, and I want to assure them that, whatever they may think of us generally as politicians, we are as much interested as they are in endeavouring to make agriculture a subject of interest to the mass of our fellow-countrymen. We have had to study, not only the present circumstances of the mass of the people whom we represent, but also the history of the efforts that have placed the mass of the people in the position they occupy to-day, and one of the things that we regret most in the history of those people is the fact that we have allowed what are sometimes, I think, wrongly called economic laws, but which might be more rightly described as economic caprice, totally to upset the proper balance in our population.

We realise that if we had a proper balance between agriculture and industry we should not have to face such a tremendous problem as we are having to face now in regard to unemployment in our industrial areas. I want especially to point out that the problems were neither created, nor neglected when created, by the party to which I belong. I do not want to bandy history across the Floor of the House, but we are an entirely new party, and probably an inexperienced party, and we cannot accept responsibility for the creation of the problems that we have to face. We can only accept responsibility for doing our best to solve them according to our strength and power.

I do not know that I should be in order in referring to certain remarks that were made by the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton). I was sorry that that speech at times took on a tone with which we on this side of the House are sometimes inclined to be irritated. The greater part of that speech, to which I listened with great attention, was a most interesting and valuable analysis of the agricultural situation, shot through occasionally with very special knowledge of the subject, but he did digress into the realm of party strife when he accused us on this side, in the person of the Minister of Agriculture, with not, in 12 months, keeping all the pledges and promises which we have given to the agricultural regions. I agree that to say "You are another" does not make an altogether good reply, but I would point out that the agricultural interest was definitely promised, by the other side, the protection of Safeguarding, and when they were asked in this House why they did not apply it, the predecessor of my right hon. Friend on the Front Bench said that the reason was that the farmer would use it in order to raise prices.


When was the farmer promised Safeguarding?


I do not want to take up time with purely party polemics, but if the hon. and gallant Member doubts my word, I would refer him to the "Morning Post" of the 14th September, 1927. I would refer him also to the "Yorkshire Post" of 15th July, 1927, when there was a statement to the effect that Mr. Baldwin's address contained also a passage promising Safeguarding or analogous measures to any industry imperilled by unfair foreign competition, agriculture not being excluded.


That was the opinion of the paper and not of Mr. Baldwin.


I do not think that the "Yorkshire Post" would be likely to misrepresent Mr. Baldwin. I do not want to pursue this matter. Although I think with some of the other speakers that you cannot eradicate political party feeling from the discussion of any economic question, I do not want to continue my speech on those lines, but I am willing to quote at considerable length from documents which I have in my possession if hon. Members doubt my word. If they accept the views expressed by their journals with regard to the responsibility of the party, I will continue to deal with my subject. [An HON MEMBER: "No, we do not!"] I have nothing more to say, if hon. Members do not accept what their own journals say with regard to the responsibility of the leader of their party.

I want to say something of a constructive kind, if it is possible for a townsman to speak constructively on agriculture. I started out in life as a farmer's boy at the age of 11, and I suppose that because for a few months I occupied that lowly position I have never lost entirely my interest in this depressed industry of our country. As an Englishman who loves what is probably the most beautiful countryside to be found in any part of the world, at least as far as I have visited other parts of the world, one is naturally anxious that as many people as possible should live in those beautiful surroundings under proper conditions. We know that in order that they should be able to do that it is essential that there shall be a flourishing agricultural industry which can suport them and which they can support by their labour.

I consider that certain speakers on the other side have not done justice to the importance of the question of marketing, which, I admit, was very largely promoted by the party opposite when they were in power, and which our party have recognised by endeavouring as far as possible to extend the beginnings which they made. I want to say, as a student not only of the countryside but of London marketing, that there is still an enormous amount of work to be done which I believe would be of the greatest practical value to the industry. I live in an industrial constituency. It is not one of the poorest of the industrial, constituencies. It has an excellent market. It is a place where, both in regard to shop and outdoor marketing, large crowds are attracted from other boroughs of London on account of the comparative cheapness of the goods that can be obtained there. There is one thing I notice as a social student, that much of the foreign produce which is brought in—I agree not often produce of the same kind that we grow in this country—is made exceedingly attractive by the care with which it is packed and displayed both by the producers and by the sellers. That is not true to the same extent of English produce, especially in regard to fruit. I can assure the Minister of Agriculture that if he can get the growers of fruit to take as much interest, as do some of the foreign producers, in making what they sell attractive, it would have a great effect upon that side of the agricultural industry.

Let me take another item, because I wish to be practical. I am, like most Englishmen, a man who prefers to have a bacon breakfast 365 days out of the 365. I have tried personally and my wife has tried all over my district to find any place on certain days where we could obtain a single piece of English bacon. It is not a question of price and it is not a question of price with many of my friends, but English bacon cannot be obtained. Why, I do not know. Is it because the price will not attract the retailer? Is it because there is insufficient publicity with regard to the virtues of this bacon, which is infinitely superior, in my opinion, to any bacon which comes from other countries? If the line is pursued by the Minister of Agriculture of encouraging the fanner and the agricultural producer generally to take more interest in the marketing and advertising of his goods, I believe we shall have a considerable improvement in the condition of our agricultural industry.

We hear a great deal about what is called an economic price. I think that whatever you may do you will never be able to ensure an economic price for long unless you keep the quality up to what people expect at that price, whatever artificial aid you may bring in. One of the first factors in securing an economic price is to make the article worth the economic price you expect to get for it. One of the ways of getting that economic price is to assist the Minister of Agriculture in his efforts to improve the marketing methods of the British farmer and the British producer of food.


I am glad that the Minister of Agriculture has returned to his place in the Committee. I should like to address a few remarks to him, particularly in connection with arable agriculture. I think he has wasted one of the most golden opportunities that a Minister of the Crown has ever had in the history of British farming of getting agriculture put on to a sound basis. He has got on this side of the House great sympathy with agriculture, and he has got in his own party lip service to agriculture which, at any rate, pretends to be something. [HON. MEMBERS: "Pretends!"] Definite statements have been made by hon. Members on the other side of their desire to help agriculture. It is a well known fact that on this side everyone will go out of his way to do everything possible to assist the agricultural industry. Surely, a combination of these circumstances formed a most golden opportunity for the Minister to have done something definite and positive. [An HON. MEMBER: "What did your Government do?"] I am taking no credit for anything that has gone before. The Governments of this country, all of them, have let down the farmer very badly, and the last Government was no exception to the rule. The position to-day has entirely altered. Here you have three-fourth of this House undoubtedly sympathetic towards agriculture, and ready to give a big and generous measure of assistance to that great industry, and yet we have had a year of the right hon. Gentleman as Minister of Agriculture, and, beyond a very few small details of agricultural policy, we have seen nothing on a big scale to assist agriculture.

I want to give the right hon. Gentleman and his Department full credit for what has been done in connection with marketing. I believe that the national mark applied to articles produced in this country has been a very great inducement to a larger sale of those particular commodities, and I hope that no pains will be spared to extend the scope of that national mark over a very much wider range of commodities than at the present time. Members on the other side say that farming must be made to pay, but after a year of the present Government farming is in a very much worse position to pay than it was when they took office. The conditions have been greatly aggravated by the lack of policy, and there has been lost a great deal of confidence that there was in the industry a year ago. In my own Division, which represents 800 square miles of Yorkshire, and where we grow the largest amount of wheat that is grown in any constituency, conditions are unparalleled in the history of the industry. I have had 1,000 agricultural workers out of employment practically the entire winter. These men have no unemployment pay. They have trudged through the snow and mud scores of miles to draw their provision from the Poor Law officer. They have lived under wretched conditions, and even to-day, when every agriculturist ought to be fully employed, they are not back again in their jobs.

I want to pay a tribute to the hon. Member for Wellingborough (Mr. Dallas) for the work he has done up and down the country during the past few months in trying to create a greater interest in the towns in the deplorable state of arable farming. He has rendered great service, and the people in my constituency appreciate what he has done in trying to ventilate some of the troubles which the arable agricultural industry is passing through. The condition of the industry seems strange seeing that we have probably the greatest market in the world for foodstuffs, and we have a tremendous population who require the bulk of the things that we produce in this country, and who are sympathetic towards the agriculturists in the main. And we have, admittedly, some of the finest farmers and farm workers that the world has yet produced. If you want to see the work of our farmers and you go to the newer countries, the Colonies and Dominions, you will find that the British farmer there is holding his own against every other class of farmer in the world. The farmers at home are the stock from which those farmers come; they know their job and are very capable. Therefore, it must be something altogether outside their control which makes it impossible to-day to run arable agriculture on economic lines.

I am afraid that different Governments have done their share towards hampering and handicapping the arable farmer. Today, there is the eight-hour day in arable farming. I am a believer in a short working week, but in my opinion there will have to be a good deal more give and take between the farmer and his men if we are ever going to get back to a practical way of running arable agriculture. It is not a practical proposition to run an eight-hour day all through the year. Many times an eight-hour day is too long. You cannot work eight hours, but there are many days when it is necessary to start earlier and work later. In that direction I feel that the Minister might make a gesture to the industry by encouraging a little more give and take between the farmer and his farm workers, without its operating to the disadvantage of either of them. To quote an example: when the harvest comes along and there has been a heavy dew, it is impossible to get the machines to work until the sun is out and the corn has dried enough to be cut. On such an occasion it ought to be reasonable to work a little longer at the end of the day.


There is nothing to prevent that.


Yes, at the present time it does not operate that way. I am reminded that one could go longer if one paid overtime. I agree, but paying overtime does not give you a greater crop yield or a greater revenue for the farmer. Consequently, that would act adversely against the farm worker. Hon. Members opposite who have studied this question closely must realise that the prosperity of the farm worker is bound up with the prosperity of the farmer. If neither of them is prosperous, there is no health in the industry. If the farmer is prosperous he can afford to carry his man along with him, and he can afford to be more generous in every possible way than is the case at the present time.

I want to make some definite suggestions to the Minister in the hope that during the next few months he will do something to save arable agriculture from the distressing condition into which it got last harvest time. We are getting along in the new year. The crop is now sown, and some preparations ought to be afoot now with a view to marketing the crop when it comes along. I can see in my constituency hundreds and hundreds of stacks of corn that have not been thrashed from last year's harvest and unless something is done, and done now, we shall find the same bad conditions in arable agriculture at the end of this year that we had last year. Is it not possible for the Minister to do something about the quota in connection with British milled wheat, without having to resort to extensive legislation?

The millers of this country have been selfish and soulless people towards the British farmers in these last few years. They built up their fortunes very largely out of the work of the British farmer, and having got their money together they transferred it in huge blocks to the ports and now it is more convenient to take a great shipload of grain alongside the mill and to grind it into flour there, than it is to help the British farmer by taking his wheat crop. In the main, these large millers have deliberately gone out to buy up and to close up the country mills that used to take the product of our arable land, and thereby they have taken from the farmers of this country the great outlets that they used to have for a very large proportion of their crop. Seeing that these people whose livelihood depends upon the British public eating their flour, there ought to be some way for the Minister to induce them to take a proper and respectable quota of British wheat in the flour that they mill and sell to the public.

Three or four years ago I introduced a private Member's Bill, which unfortunately never got beyond a First Reading. It set out, on the advice of millers and the National Farmers' Union, the percentage of British wheat which could be milled in flour without doing any damage to the loaf. It got no further, and it was only in the last Parliament that the Minister of Agriculture agreed to incorporate the principles of that Bill in the Army contracts for flour and meat. I was disappointed that the present Minister of Agriculture did not go on with those principles in Army contracts. They would not have done anyone any harm and they certainly would have done a great deal of good to the farmers of the country. I hope the right hon. Gentleman will see that it was not very wise to cancel those provisions and will do what he can to restore this small market to our farmers.

I want to ask the Government generally whether they do not consider that agricultural workers are quite as deserving as miners. They are prepared to go out of their way to legislate to ensure that the miner has proper and reasonable wages and hours of work. Do they not think that they should also do something for the agricultural worker to stabilise his position? It is not fair to heap all the benefits of Government legislation on to one particular section of the community to the total exclusion of another, and I put this plea forward on behalf of the agricultural worker, who has to work just as hard and just as long and must have quite as much general knowledge as the miner in carrying out his particular job. I ask for him the same generous terms which the Government are giving to another section of the community.

There is a great future for British agriculture if we tackle it properly on big lines. We are confronted with the problem of unemployment which is baffling the best brains of the country and yet, staring us in the face, is a possible field for the employment of a further 500,000 men on the land if we tackled it in a sensible way. It is about time that we dropped talking pious platitudes and settled down to a real programme irrespective of party politics. I do not see in the attitude of the Government any desire to do anything on a large scale for agriculture. I hope the right hon. Gentleman is going to tell us something about the conferences he has had during the past few months. After all, there is nothing secret about them, and surely we ought to be in possession of the information which is likely to guide agricultural politics for the next year or two. If there is anything that is likely to Dome along which is going to give even a shred of optimism surely it should be disclosed now so that people can go along with more confidence. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in my opinion, has done a very grievous harm to agriculture in his attack on the landlords of the country in the Budget. This policy of preventing companies being formed for the exploitation of farming is quite erroneous and utterly wrong. If it is to deal with tax evasion I agree with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but I do not see why a company should not operate agriculture in the same way as any other industry. The provisions in the Budget are directed strongly against the industry.

On the Vote for the salary of the Lord Privy Seal I made a suggestion that we should encourage the sale of home-grown and Empire-grown commodities. I venture to repeat that suggestion now to the Minister of Agriculture. The right hon. Gentleman has had considerable success with the national mark, which has created larger sales in particular commodities. The first week after British meat was marked with the national mark sales went up in Smithfield Market 6y 30 per cent. Surely that is something which we should encourage. I want to go a little further; I want to make patriotism pay. I want to make it possible, if a person is prepared to go out of his way and buy home products or Imperial products, that he should have some benefit for so doing as against the person who spends his money on any sort of product from any other part of the world. We should do something on the same lines as co-operative societies; that when you buy over the counter a certain article which has the national mark, which is the product of British labour, that you should receive with the receipt for that article some sort of coupon which would be useful and might be used in the same way as a co-operative dividend scrip—


The hon. and gallant Member is getting very near to legislation, and it is not in order to discuss legislation on this Vote.


I am very sorry, but I am full of enthusiasm for the development of the sale of home produce and anything we can do in that direction should be done. May I pay a tribute to the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture for the way in which they have carried on their work? The amount of research and information which they have collected has been most useful to farmers all over the country, and I am satisfied that the Ministry has got together a very efficient and capable staff.

Just one purely personal matter relating to my own constituency. The Minister of Agriculture made a grant to the Bridlington Harbour Commissioners for the erection of a new pier and fish docks The amount was about £7,000; but in order to carry out the work £11,500 was needed. The Harbour Commissioners had £4,000 in reserve, but the Minister refused to allow them to use it because they said that if the pier was blown down in a storm the Commissioners would not be able to rebuild and they must, therefore, carry this amount as reserve. Consequently, they have had to go outside and borrow £3,000 upon which they have to pay substantial interest. This has necessitated their asking for higher harbour dues, which is operating unfairly amongst the fishermen who depend for their livelihood on work in the harbour. To quote an example, before the War it used to cost them 5s. a year to keep a small coble boat in the harbour. It was raised to 35s., but now, owing to this new borrowing, they are charging the fishermen of Bridlington Harbour a year. That is nearly 100 per cent. more simply because they have had to borrow this £3,000. I know that the right hon. Gentleman has considerable sympathy with the small harbours of the country. I hope the Minister will see that any moneys lent by the Government to these harbours do not result in extra charges to the fishermen, who are really very poor people. At Bridlington we have not the advantages of a railway line alongside the harbour. There is cartage to the station to get the goods away, and a good deal of extra expense that has not to be incurred by other harbours. I hope the Minister will try to do something so that the Commissioners at Bridlington can either use the money that they have or obtain an increased grant, and thus be able to operate the harbour on the basis of the same rates as those hitherto paid.

Finally, I would remind the Committee that we are past the time for paying lip service to agriculture. It is time that we got down to the doing of something really practical. Hundreds of thousands of acres are annually going out of cultivation. It is not a bit of good passing on pious platitudes about what we are going to do. Let us get down to the problem now and give the farmer some direct hope that this House intends to see fair play given to him. Let the farmer know that this House is determined that he shall have a chance to work the industry economically, to keep employed those people who are on the land, and to reabsorb many of those who have migrated to the towns. On those lines I am certain that the Government will find a better opportunity for the solution of the problem of unemployment, and on those lines he will find many on these benches who will be glad to help him in his efforts.


There was once a doctor who had considerable difficulty in getting in his accounts. Money was tight and people could not or would not pay. One day he was driving in the country and met a farmer who had owed him money for years, and he suggested that the farmer might do something towards liquidating the debt. The farmer replied, "I am very sorry. I am very hard up. Money is very tight and we have had a very rough time. But I will tell you what I will do. I will send you a wagon load of hay. You keep horses and you can take the value of the hay off your account." It was agreed, and a few days later the doctor was very surprised to see a wagon load of hay upset outside his house. A small boy was working very hard with a pitchfork putting the hay back into the wagon. The doctor said, "Hallo, little man, you have had an accident." The boy replied, "Yes, sir." "You look very small and tired. Go to the kitchen and get some refreshment," the doctor continued. The boy replied, "No, thanks. I would, but I do not know what my father would say." "Your father would not mind," the doctor continued. "I will not go; I do not know what my father will say" was the reply again. At last, very reluctantly, the boy consented, but all the time he was partaking of the refreshment he kept repeating, "I am sure I do not know what my father will say." "Where is your father?" asked the doctor. "Under the hay" said the boy.

I think it is perfectly true to say that the farmers to-day are under the hay. They are ground down beneath the iron heel of a depression which has persisted during a long period of years. I am hoping that the Minister of Agriculture will be able by his conduct at the Ministry and by his suggestions to do something to bring a gleam of daylight to the agricultural community. I want to address to him one or two questions on rather minor matters, though they are matters of very great importance to agriculture. I want to know whether the Ministry has ever initiated any prosecutions under the Act of Parliament dealing with rings, and whether the Ministry is satisfied that the Act is being carried out properly in the markets of this country. From my own observation I should say that the rings persist to-day just as much as ever. Let anyone who doubts go to any market. I understand what I am talking about. Anyone can see the rigging of the price to suit certain people, and the cheating of the farmer and the agriculturist out of the real value of the things that they have to sell. There is the mock auction and the dividing of the profits afterwards. I can see it with my own eyes, but no one seems to take any particular interest in the matter. I wonder whether the Ministry is satisfied with the working of that Act, and whether there are any inspectors who attend markets for the purpose of detecting this sort of thing? I feel sure that if we could have the administration tightened up a great deal could be done to help farmers to obtain real value for their goods.

The next question relates to short-term credit. The Government are doing a great deal to help trade in other ways, but farmers are subject to considerable pressure from the banks to reduce overdrafts, and many of them are greatly worried because at this period of the year, before the harvest, they cannot reduce the overdrafts. I was wondering whether something could not be done to make short-term credit a real help to the farmer. Many farmers are under-capitalised; they have not the money to buy stock or to deal with the land properly. It seemed to me that if we give credit to other industries and trades we might render a very real help to farmers by means of short-term credit. Then there is the question of tithe rent charge. Some time ago I asked the Minister of Agriculture whether he would be prepared to to include in the agricultural conference a representative of the tithe-payers. Unfortunately he did not see his way to accede to that request. A tremendous burden was cast upon agriculture by the Tithe Rent Act of 1925. The Conservatives never dealt a greater blow to agriculture than when they passed that Act and fastened an annual charge of from £3,000,000 to £4,000,000 on the land of this country, making, instead of a movable charge that went up and down with prices, a fixed charge upon agriculture. £105 or £100 tithe, with £4 10s. per cent. redemption, is fastened on agriculture at the present time, so that in a number of years there will come out of the agriculture of this country a capital sum of between £70,000,000 and £75,000,000 for Queen Anne's bounty.

The time has come when we should have some inquiry by the Ministry as to the incidence of tithe and its working. The day has passed when the farmers are prepared to go on carrying a burden and a charge which does not and cannot issue out of the land on which it is charged. In my own constituency there is pasture land, hopland in days gone by, now carrying that heavy burden. Many men who bought the land just after the War at high prices now find that under the operation of the Act tithe rent charge is practically double what it was when they purchased their holdings. That is something that needs to be very carefully reviewed. I hope I shall not have appealed in vain to the Government and the Ministry of Agriculture for an inquiry into this most urgent problem.

Every week, farmers are being brought into the County Courts and some of them are allowing land to become derelict sooner than face a tithe rent charge of from 6s. to 10s. and 12s. an acre. I know that the reply is made that the charge was on the land when the farmer bought it and that he knew it was there, but I ask what sort of property is this, which neither rises nor falls? It is a better security than War Loan. It does not even fluctuate. In every other country in the world tithe rent charge has disappeared; this is the only country where it persists. An hon. Member above the Gangway shakes his head. But I am stating as a fact that tithe rent charge on agriculture has disappeared from every country except ours. In other days it applied not only to agriculture but to professions and industries. Agriculture alone is now called upon to carry this very heavy load and to be relieved from this burden of £3,000,000 or £4,000,000 annually would be a great gain to agriculture. If the Minister cannot see his way to set up a committee to inquire into this question—I know there are already many committees—I ask him to receive a deputation from these people who have a real grievance and to see if it is not possible, at any rate, to lighten the burden. The. Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) made a statement which is liable to create a very erroneous impression if it is allowed to go unchallenged. He conveyed the impression that the average value of agricultural land in this country had fallen to about £8 an acre.


May I on behalf of my Noble Friend correct that impression. I am sure he never meant to say anything of the kind, nor did I understand him to say so. What he said was that there were cases in which the value of agricultural land had fallen as low as £8, but that is not saying that the average is £8 an acre.


I then rose and put a definite question to him and asked him if he maintained that that was the average price and his retort to me was that if I bought some land I would know more of what I was talking about. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear!"] Evidently hon. Members above the Gangway think that they have the monopoly of the intelligence as well as of the land of this country. That is in keeping with the Noble Lord's arrogance in suggesting that nobody could own land but a Tory and that nobody could know anything about the price of land but a Tory Earl. I think that in mentioning the price of £8 an acre he was probably referring to bog land in Ireland.


I not only heard what the Noble Lord said but I know for myself that it is possible to find even good agricultural land selling at £10 and under and to have the buildings and farm-house thrown in as well.


I know there are cases of that kind but to suggest that that is general or that it is anything like an average is wholly mistaken. I could give cases of farms which I purchased recently on the break-up of an estate in Kent, where comparatively light sandy land has sold at from £18 to £20 an acre. Every tenant who has purchased his holding knows what the price of land is to-day and to suggest that good agricultural land and buildings could be purchased in this country for such a price as £8 an acre, and that that is an average price, is nothing but sheer exaggeration.


It was not suggested.

9.0 p.m.


I say that it was suggested. And when hon. Members read the OFFICIAL REPORT to-morrow they will see whether I am correct or not. I rose in my place and asked the Noble Lord specifically whether he intended to convey that impression, and his impudent retort to me was, that if I bought any land myself I, or my leader, might know something about it. That impudent suggestion was worthy of the source from which it came. There are one or two matters of detail to which I would invite the attention of the Minister. One is the question of the rapidity with which the inspectors of the Ministry are enabled to deal with cases of swine fever. One or two cases have occurred in my constituency in which there has been great delay. [Laughter.] Hon. Members above the Gangway seem to know a, great deal about this subject. It is a very important matter and one which agricultural people who have suffered great losses by it do not regard as a laughing matter. The complaint is that many of the Ministry's officials who deal with these cases are not on the telephone, and in a scattered district, a man who suspects that there is a case of the disease in his herd, may have great difficulty in getting in touch with the proper official. I know of one case in which the official was not on the telephone and a man who suspected a case of swine fever in a herd had to undertake a considerable journey to find the inspector. By the time he had reported the case and steps had been taken to make an examination, 200 or 300 pigs had been infected. Had the official been on the telephone it is possible that 250 or more might have been saved. It would be a good thing if the officials of the Ministry in the various counties who deal with these matters were within reach by telephonic communication.

Various suggestions have been made from time to time for helping agriculture, but I think it will be found that the key to the situation lies in wheat growing. We can never deal effectively with the agricultural situation unless we are prepared to deal with wheat. More than any other crop it influences all branches of agriculture, both directly and indirectly, and the peril to agriculture arises from the fact that much of the wheat land is going into grass or is being used for the growing of potatoes. We get over-production in other branches of the industry, but if we could deal with wheat and put wheat-growing on a sound basis, it would correct a great deal of over-production, both of potatoes and of milk, and would also help in regard to rotation and methods of cultivation generally. How can this be done? I do not know if the Minister is prepared to appoint a committee to consider the possibility of giving the farmer a price for his wheat which would compensate him for growing it. Suggestions have been made that the bread for the Army, the Navy and the Air Force should be made from British milled wheat. I think, quite frankly, that was a valuable suggestion, but as a remedy it does not go far enough. We shall have to come to the question of getting millers to take anything up to 15 per cent. of British wheat, and if there is chemically-treated flour coming into this country, as I understand there is, in fairly large quantities, I hope the Minister will deal with that matter, if he has the necessary power to do so.


That is a, very valuable suggestion, and it has been made already from the benches where the hon. Member sits. May I ask him whether he is speaking officially for his own party? Are we to take it that is his party's point of view?


I am speaking as an agriculturist—as one who was born in agriculture and represents an agricultural constituency. I am putting purely my own point of view, which I shall continue to put as long as I am a Member of this House. Despite what the Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) said about conferences, all the while lauding to the skies the partisanship point of view, there are still a number of people in this House who are prepared to deal with agriculture aside from party prejudices; and if the Minister would deal with this question of wheat he need have no fear of anything. If only we could deal with the use of chemically-treated flour and bring our own wheat to our mills, we should secure a supply of offal for our farms which would help those engaged in stock raising, help dairy farmers and others, and, incidentally, give employment to a larger number of men at the mills, while at the same time that policy could not be of the slightest detriment to the consumers of bread in this country. References have been made to the subsidy which was given to agriculture in the past, but that was a subsidy given without a limit and in a wrong way, being based on the acreage of the land and not on the quality of the grain, and the subsidy broke down under a Tory Minister of Agriculture because of the terrific burden it imposed upon the taxpayers.


May I ask the hon. Member whether he would support a policy to give a guaranteed price, based on the cost of production, for wheat grown in this country


Certainly I would. I suggest that the Minister should confer with those concerned to see whether it is possible to fix the price of wheat at, say, 55s. a quarter. If he could induce millers to take 15 per cent. increasing up to 20 per cent., of British wheat at 55s. a quarter, leaving them free to buy the rest of their wheat at world prices, as cheaply as they could, while the consumer would not have to pay any more for his bread the agriculturist would get an adequate return on the capital he had invested in the land. That would be a valuable suggestion for a conference if one could be brought about. The Noble Lord suggested that we should all go into the conference with our minds hermetically sealed, viewing things merely from our own particular angle, but the condition of things is too serious for that. There are men of good will who wish to see the countryside revived and feel it is necessary that something should be done, and if we could get those men together, we could find a basis for the revival of agriculture. Of course there will be cries of "subsidy." There are a number of hon. Members round me who objected to the subsidy on sugar beet. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] The hon. Member may say "Hear, hear!" but the fact remains that although that subsidy cost a good deal it had the effect of reducing the price of sugar, and the consumers in this country have received in direct benefit five times the amount of the subsidy which has been paid. [Interruption.] You cannot get away from those figures. They are there for anybody to see. I have them here in a schedule, but I am not proposing—


We must not discuss the sugar beet Vote.


I was under the impression that sugar beet was included in this Estimate.


No. At the beginning of the Debate I said there was another Vote dealing with the sugar beet subsidy, and we must not discuss it now.


I am sorry; I was under a misapprehension. I hope the Ministry will give attention to the few points I have raised, and will try to respond to the invitation which has been given from all quarters of the House to bring us together to see if we cannot find a common policy for the lifting of agricultural depression and the restarting of prosperity in the countryside.


The Debate so far marks a very substantial advance on any previous Debates on agriculture in this House which I can remember. The general unity of parties and the fact that on all sides there is a desire to make this industry one of our big, basic profitable industries is a marked feature of the Debate. I am glad that it is at last recognised that we on this side of the House take an intelligent interest in this industry. It is questionable whether on any side of the House there is a full appreciation of the tremendous possibilities lying dormant in the industry. The call is imperative. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton), speaking for the official Opposition, made an observation regarding the urban mind of the House of Commons with which I am in total agreement, though it is rarely that I can agree with him. Throughout the last 10 years of Parliamentary Debate and Parliamentary effort, both from the administrative and the legislative point of view, the urban mind has dominated the House and taken far too full a measure of time. That could be proved.

The old country is not played out, and it is wise to take stock when we come to a period like the present. It may be questioned whether we shall recapture industrial markets to any very large extent, but I believe that there are markets to recapture. A new force and a new factor are operating in the World. It will be generally agreed that with the new world in the East just beginning to industrialise its machines, and with the secondary industries developing in our Dominions, there is a whole new set of forces and factors at work which make a new outlook for this country, and which ought to give a new prominence to agriculture if agriculture is to be put in its relative place in these islands. By that I mean that I regard our industrial expansion as stabilised, if not declining and contracting, and we ought to look at the great potential possibilities in the agricultural world to see whether or not we cannot make a big advance to put this industry on a now basis and give it some fresh security and its proper place in the life of the community. That is the premise from which we should work.

The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) made the suggestion that there ought to be an effort to try and find a common foundation on which we could settle a basis for agriculture. I was sorry to hear the Noble Lord decry it and say that they are not willing, and that no solution can be found except on a one party basis. I have yet to find the basis on which any party legislation will have continuity for 10 years. The position of the great industry of agriculture, employing over 1,000,000 workers and with at least 40,000 idle waiting to be reabsorbed, is a national emergency that demands that all men of goodwill should come in, irrespective of party label or doctrine, to see whether they cannot get an agreed policy in order to give the industry stability, security and some prospect for the future. If I were to give my voice or vote on behalf of this party, I would be prepared to say to the leaders, "Go in and see how far you can get out of it a mutually agreed policy so that this industry can lift its head again with some sense of security." I realise that in debating this issue there are three or four industries within agriculture. I come from the smiling county of Somerset, and if hon. Members want a holiday, they should go down there. We will give them rest, Cheddar cheese and cider—[An HON. MEMBER: "Free?"] Yes, if hon. Members will call at my house, but do not come in groups.

I regard the milk and dairying part of the industry in relation to arable cultivation. I regard meat as one industry, milk and dairying as another, and arable cultivation as a third. Whenever there is depression in arable cultivation and land is put down to pasture, the milk and dairying section is increased, and sooner or later there is a glut and a falling market, and an industry, which otherwise would have had some security and some economic basis, is broken. That is exactly what will happen in the fall of this year in milk and dairying. In the coming negotiations between the negotiating committee of the Farmers Union and the big combines, the combines will barter with the possibility of big surpluses in milk production, and they will have in their hands a weapon which will break the economic basis of milk and dairy farming, and which will be to the detriment of that large section of agriculture in the south west of England. I hope that the Minister will be able to give an indication that the marketing proposals will be available to-night, for they will give some sense of security to this section of the industry.

With regard to the points raised by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Ashford (Mr. Kedward). I cannot speak on behalf of the farmer, but I have worked on a bakery committee for a long time, and I know how the sales of a big bakery fluctuate according to the quality, texture and colour of the cottage loaf. I have seen a drop of 10 sacks one morning, and a drop of another 10 sacks next morning. Inquiry at the bakery revealed that a certain flour was being used out of proportion, and the buying public had a prejudice against this; and a little round white loaf had been put on the market by a competitor. I do not believe that that is a problem beyond solution. I stand firmly on the principle that there should be a quota of British wheat by compulsion, so that a keen competitor should not be allowed to come out with his little white loaf to cut out those who desire to do a fair deal with British products. I do not believe it is beyond the mind of the miller and the science of the miller to make British wheat as palatable and as saleable as Argentine, Canadian and Australian wheat. If an announcement on those lines could be made, it would have a wholesome effect on arable cultivation. I congratulate the Minister on his marking proposals for wheat and flour, and the acceleration of egg production. That is all to the good. I believe that administratively the Minister has justified all the confidence we have in him. With the party system in this House it is impossible for him to embark on the legislative proposals we should desire.

In conclusion, I want to ask the Minister three things. Will he at least consider a quota of British wheat for British milling and bread baking; will he ask his colleague the Postmaster-General whether the telephone service cannot be more liberally granted to rural communities and farmers, and can cheap money be afforded? Hon. Members may ask why there should be cheap money for agriculture rather than other industries. I do not want to differentiate, but when you have an industry depleted and broken, I am not so tied to any philosophy that I could not go to a Minister and urge that, with the power of the House of Commons and the country's credit at his back, the best possible credit facilities should be arranged at the cheapest rates possible. I believe that is due to the industry in order to enable it to pass from this transitional period. Along those lines I particularly congratulate the Minister on the work he has done. I believe he is still hoping to bring in a marketing Bill—though that is outside the scope of discussion to-night—and I want to assure him of the very sound and solid backing of these benches in any legislative proposals he cares to bring in, and in the further administrative proposals which I know he is anxious to carry through.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I am quite sure that the Committee has listened with interest to the hon. Member for Frome (Mr. Gould). I want to make one observation with reference to his remarks. As a Committee we have been learning a good deal as to the inner mind of the Socialist party in relation to this question of agriculture. Up to the present it has been generally assumed, and there has been good reason for the assumption, that the inner mind of hon. Members opposite has been concentrated on one solution, and one only, for the agricultural problem, namely, the solution of nationalisation. This is rather remarkable, although I am aware that a full dilation on that particular policy would not be in order to-day. It is a welcome sign that there are hon. Members on the other side who are becoming fully aware that it is not the only solution. When any farmer, like myself, looks through the Estimates of the Ministry of Agriculture and comes to Vote 8, which we are discussing to-night, the first thing that will strike him will be the magnitude of the sum of money allotted to this particular Vote. It is a sum of no less than £2,250,000, or rather more. Any farmer who sees that figure will say to himself, "What an extraordinarily big sum!"

Here we have the country, year by year, voting this particular sum for the maintenance of the Ministry of Agriculture. As a taxpayer and a farmer, I am entitled to ask what the Ministry of Agriculture is doing to justify the expenditure of that sum. I am well aware that the whole sum is not payable in respect of the salaries of the Minister and his staff, but it is a very big sum, and I think the industry as a whole may well ask whether we are getting sufficient value for the money. After all, we are the only industry which has the benefit of a full-blown Ministry all to itself. Surely, that being so, we ought to be the one industry which is really flourishing, but, unfortunately, as we know only too well, of all the industries which are languishing, the industry of agriculture is probably the most languishing to-day. Why is it that this situation has been permitted to arise? We have in the Ministry a multitude of departments. There are departments dealing with matters ranging from small holdings to the care of shell-fish and the compilation of statistics—a very wide range of subjects. The fact is that agriculture to-day is a completely languishing industry, and it is obvious, therefore, that there must be something wrong. I would like to put it in this way. The agricultural industry is rather like a kettle. The Minister and his colleagues are sitting holding the kettle, which has some small holes round the spout, and they are putting their fingers on the holes to prevent the water leaking out. Meanwhile, they are utterly oblivious to the fact that the whole bottom has long since fallen out of the kettle. That really is the position to-day. We are tinkering with the subject, instead of putting a new foundation and a new bottom on to the kettle of the agricultural industry.

If we review the position as it has obtained in the last year, we are entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman what he has to his credit in relation to the great industry of which he has charge. Has he anything to show to his credit in new ideas and a new policy—even though we may not discuss the items of that policy to-night? Have the Government of to-day any really sound ideas as to how to rescue the industry from the plight in which it finds itself? As with unemployment, matters in agriculture have gone from bad to worse since the present Government have been in office. One knows that there has been a further fall in world prices, and that no responsibility attaches to this Government or to any other Government in that respect. We know, too, that the fall has been severely accentuated by the fact of a large importation of bounty-fed cereals. We have had bounty-fed wheat and oats from Germany, and double the total quantity of bounty-fed oats in the past 12 months that we had in the previous 12 months. We have got bounty-fed flour, as well as bounty-fed wheat, coming from France in ever-increasing quantities. We have had dumped Russian grain which has been refused entry into Continental ports, in Holland and Belgium, which has been diverted to British ports.

We have had all these things to contend with, and what action have the Government taken? What action has the Government taken to try and stay the flood of importations of grain into this country from so many different sources? We know quite well that the Minister of Agriculture and his colleagues, and all the personnel of his Department, have been extraordinarily busy and active in their respective spheres, and that the Ministry as a whole has been doing excellent work in many directions, but really is all this worth while when all the time the agricultural industry continues to go backward? The particular things that matter are the things to which the Minister of Agriculture should address himself. It seems to me that the right hon. Gentleman is neglecting the things that really matter in the Department of which he has charge. In the debate last week I was surprised that the Minister was at such pains to minimise the effects of the importation of cereals.

The right hon. Gentleman emphasised the importation of wheat from the Argentine. I think we get two very clear distinctions in regard to this matter. While the Minister was emphasising the importance of the importation of Argentine grain, and minimising the importation of bounty-fed grain from Germany and other countries, he neglected to tell the Committee the great effect which these two points have upon that particular matter. The first point is that German wheat is a far more direct competitor with English wheat than Argentine wheat. It is true that Argentine wheat does fall into the category of soft wheats, but Argentine wheat is one that stands in a, middle position between hard and soft wheats. The Argentine wheat coming to this country competes more with Canadian wheat than with English wheat. On the other hand German wheat is a soft wheat, and falls within that category, and therefore it is the German wheat which hits us most as a competitor when it comes to our shores, and doubly so when it comes as a bounty-fed wheat. That is one point which I think the Minister rather neglected to tell the Committee last week in regard to this matter.

I come to the question of oats. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture stated in reply to a, question a fortnight ago that the German subsidy on oats was equivalent to 3s. per cwt., that is 9s. per quarter. The German oats which came into this country in large quantities last year reached these shores with a subsidy of no less than 9s. a quarter, that is to say, nearly 50 per cent. less than the price of English oats. There is another point which the Minister of Agriculture forgot to place before the Committee in regard to foreign importations, and it is that although the Argentine sends us a very much larger quantity of wheat than Germany in cwts. or quarters, it is true that a, comparatively small amount of German bounty-fed wheat has an effect entirely out of proportion to the general effect of importations from the Argentine. Both Argentine wheat and oats would have been infinitely dearer in this country during the past year but for the fact that the price has been kept down by bounty-fed German wheat. That is a point which ought to be made clear.

I hope the Minister of Agriculture will not think that I have been too hard upon him in what I have said, and I must now turn to the acts of the Government in regard to this question. What have the Government done for agriculture since they have been in office? I know I must not discuss the acts of the Government during the past year in detail unless they come within the scope of the Ministry of Agriculture, but I think that those who represent agricultural constituencies are entitled to know what the Government have done for agriculture, and what has been the effect of their legislation as a whole. I do not think that I shall be out of order in referring to coal, which is an important raw material for the agricultural industry. Coal is going to be dearer in the cottage home of the farm worker, and we certainly have had no assistance from the Government for agriculture in that respect. One may well ask if the producers of coal are to be allowed to fix the prices which the farmer will have to pay when he buys coat. Is it not a corollary that the farmer, when he sells corn, should not have an equal measure of protection in fixing the price of his products which are supplied to the coal miner? Logically that must be right. I know that we have to consider the relative importance of the two industries, and we are all agreed that the coal mining industry and the agricultural industry are undoubtedly the two main industries in the country. Both those industries are productive. One of them produces energy for the steam engine in the shape of coal. On the other hand agriculture, in the form of corn, produces energy for the human engine. Which is the most important? Obviously, that which produces energy for the human engine.

There is another quality besides that of production, and that is reproduction. Corn possesses the quality of reproduction which is not possessed by coal. I make no apology for alluding to an analogy which I have made before in this House, and I ask the Committee to consider this point. Take, for instance, a lump of coal. It is put into the furnace and produces energy for the engine, and its ultimate destination is to go up the chimney and disappear in the form of smoke. On the other hand take a handful of corn, and drop it into the earth; it has a reproductive quality, and it can reproduce itself perhaps 80 or 100 fold. That great quality of production gives agriculture a quality which is not shared by any other industry in the country. Consequently those of us who represent agriculture can claim that we are charged with looking after the interests of an industry which is a prime industry, and one which should stand first in the economic policy of the country. We have another instance of the care which the present Government have for agriculture. They have introduced a Consumers' Council Bill—


The hon. and gallant Member is really making a Second Reading speech, and not a Committee speech. He cannot go into all these details now, but must try to keep to the administration of the Ministry.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I am sorry if I have transgressed. What I was trying to say was that, in connection with these Bills, which we cannot, of course—


The Government are responsible for the Bills, but the Minister is responsible to-night for the agricultural side, and that is what we are actually discussing.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I fully understand, but at the same time I would respectfully suggest that the Minister, in his capacity as a Member of the Government, has surely some responsibility, both for the passing of Bills which have already been passed and for the legislation—


The Minister may have some responsibility for legislation which has been passed, but to-night we are discussing a Vote of £2,000,000, and it is the expenditure of that £2,000,000 that is under discussion. The hon. and gallant Member is not the only one who has made a Second Reading speech to-night.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I think I was in very good company, and I am rather surprised, Mr. Young, that you should be so hard on me, but I fully accept the position, and will try to keep within the bounds of order. That being so, it is quite obvious that I must make no allusion to the taxation of land values, even though that is going to add a new burden on the land. I think I shall be within the bounds of order if I try to put the position of agriculture to-day in a very few words. There is a brief method of expressing the economic position of the industry. If we take the cost of living index figure, we find that the figure for April was 57 points above the pre-War figure. If, on the other hand, we take the figure for prices of farm produce which was given to us by the right hon. Gentleman himself last week, it is only 36 points above the pre-War figure. That is to say, there is a gap of some 20 points between the cost of living index figure and the index figure for the price which is being received by farmers for agricultural produce. That gap of 20 points puts in a nutshell the position of the industry to-day. Of course we know that, in addition to that gap, we are burdened with extremely high costs, the chief item of which is in connection with labour. We all agree that the agricultural labourer is not paid too much, but it is fair to ask, when a Socialist Government passed the Agricultural Wages Regulation Act in 1924, whether that Government, when they took steps to protect the agricultural labourer, could not also have taken steps to protect—


Perhaps they could, but that again is a matter of legislation. I must ask the hon. and gallant Member to try to keep off anything of that kind, because a number of other Members want to speak. They have been besieging me all the afternoon.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I was only going to ask why they had not taken steps, by administration or in some other way, to protect also the product of that labour. That is the only point that I wish to make in that connection. It is quite obvious that the situation obtaining in the agricultural industry to-day cannot go on for ever. Matters are getting so strained that some solution of the problem must be found. A refusal on the part of farmers to accept defeat is no excuse for the Government refusing to face the facts of the situation. Let me turn for a moment to the question of remedies. It is quite clear that, if the Government have a responsibility in regard to the situation in which agriculture finds itself, it is the duty of the present Government to try to find some solution. I am precluded from indicating methods which involve legislation, but at least I think I am entitled to ask the Minister whether or not his Government propose to act on the advice put forward by the Conference which they themselves called into being. As we know from the right hon. Gentleman, that Conference came together in a very happy social frame of mind. I can only say that the position as between the three parties in the industry, the landowners, the farmers and the farm workers, has always been good, and I myself did not go into that Conference to improve social relations, because my own social relations were good before. I went with a sincere desire and intention to try to contribute something towards the benefit of agriculture, and to the hammering out of some policy. I think we are entitled to know whether the right hon. Gentleman intends to act in any way on the lines set forth by the Conference, and as quoted to-day by my hon. and gallant Friend who opened this Debate. I hope that the Minister will give us a definite reply on that matter. One word about Unemployment Insurance—


Any Amendment of the Unemployment Insurance Acts would require legislation.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

May I point out that, in almost every case which I have mentioned in my speech, I have gone through the speech of the Minister last week, and I am merely alluding to matters to which he then alluded? I hope I am not completely out of order in following the Minister.


It may be that the Minister, in explaining his policy, mentioned that Unemployment Insurance might have to come in, and hon. Members on the other side have done the same. But to elaborate points of that kind, which involve legislation, would be to get away from the Vote altogether. When the Minister is explaining his Estimates, he has the right to make references to matters which are not open for discussion on the Vote.

Viscount WOLMER

Surely, a Member is entitled to comment on the statements of the Minister?


I do not remember exactly what the Minister said. He may have made reference to Unemployment Insurance, but to argue the question of Unemployment Insurance would be out of order on this occasion.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

It was not my intention to argue the merits of the case, but merely to make one comment on the figures given by the right hon. Gentleman himself in relation to the number of people unemployed in the agricultural industry, and on the fact that apparently, according to the reports which he has received, about 5 per cent. of the workers in agriculture are out of employment at the present moment, of which 5 per cent., if I may quote the Minister, the major portion are casual workers. All that I have to say on that point is that, in view of the gravity of the general situation in regard to unemployment to-day, it is obvious that any step which the Government may decide to take should be rather on the lines of trying to get these men back into their industry, even though they may only be casual workers, than of imposing upon the industry a new burden in regard to them. On the general question, I hope that the Minister, in his reply, will give the Committee some indication of what he proposes to do. He may say that within the limits of this Debate, and in view of the fact that we are tied down to criticism of his administration, he is precluded from going into any question of policy, but, as I am sure you, Mr. Young, will agree, it is the custom to allow a certain amount of latitude in dealing with matters of national gravity—


There seems to be a quite general misapprehension of what we are doing. When we are discussing Estimates, we are confined to expenditure inside the Estimates. There are many items in connection with agriculture which come under this particular Vote, and these are the matters that ought to be debated in this Committee, but, unfortunately, both on the last occasion and to-day, the discussion took such a wide turn that it was quite impossible properly to tie it down to the Estimate. I confess that I myself have been at fault in allowing such a wide discussion but I am anxious that it should not be widened still further.

Lieut.-Colonel RUGGLES-BRISE

I have only this to say. I started off by drawing attention to the magnitude of the Vote and I asked if the agricultural industry is getting full value for the money that is being spent. There are many Departments dealing with different minor activities of the industry and all the time the industry itself is falling more rapidly into decay. I ask the Minister to stand up and justify the expenditure that we are asked to vote and to give some indication that he has some plan whereby he may rescue the industry from the plight into which it has fallen.


I wish to make a few remarks on the question of the conference that has been raised on the Liberal benches. When I heard the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) announcing this proposal, I was full of distrust and I felt sure that it was insincere. The speeches from the Liberal benches to-day have confirmed me entirely in my suspicions. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert) started off by recommending the conference. He said we should lift agriculture out of party politics and put it on a higher plane and all go in with our hands untied. He had not spoken more than two or three sentences when he said he would have nothing whatever to do with nationalisation. The hon. Member for Holland and Boston (Mr. Blindell) also recommended an unfettered conference, and he next remarked that he would have nothing whatever to do with tariffs. I believe that is the reason why the Prime Minister the other day told us, in answer to a question, that in view of past experience, a conference of this sort would be of very little use. I should like to know the views of the Minister himself.


The views of the Minister would be out of order on this question.


But if the Minister has power to call a conference—


He may have power to call a conference, and the hon. Member may ask him to do it, but he must leave it there. He cannot develop it on this Vote. He must find other time.


May I not ask the Minister whether he thinks the calling of the conference is a good plan or not?

10.0 p.m.


I really think all these matters are subsidiary to the question that we are discussing. If I had done my duty, I should have been calling on nearly every speaker to point out on which part of the Vote he was speaking. I did not do that because I had in my recollection the rather wide scope of the first day's Debate. I did not want to go back on that, but on the third day we shall have to keep strictly to the Estimate.


In the Debate last week, the Parliamentary Secretary distinctly gave his views, and I want to know if the Minister's views coincide with those of the Parliamentary Secretary. I will quote what he said.


There is an understanding that the second day is quite independent of the first. I remember that the discussion was of a rather wide character. If I was at fault then, I am not going to be at fault any longer. I must ask those who speak to confine themselves to this Estimate.


I wish now to ask the Minister one or two questions which I am sure will come within the Vote. The first is with regard to field drainage. There is a good deal of disquietude amongst agriculturists because the Minister only gives the grants on completion of the work. It would be a great help to farmers if he could find some way of giving them at periods during the work. They find it very hard to produce the money to pay the wages if the Minister does not give the grants until the work is actually completed. If he would look into the question and do something to meet the farmer in that respect, we should be very grateful indeed. I should also like to ask a question with regard to foot-and-mouth disease. We have during the last few months been almost entirely immune from it. It has been a wonderful period of immunity for which we are all distinctly grateful. Could the Minister let us know to what he attributes this immunity, whether he attributes it in any way to the mission of Lord Bledisloe to the Argentine and also to the embargo that has been placed on Continental meat coming into this country, or if there are any other reasons apart from the very energetic staff which he has at the Ministry to carry out his instructions.

During the last year, market gardeners have been in very grave distress. They have gone through a harder time than almost any other section of the agricultural community. It has been due a great deal to drought and fly and to competition from foreign imports. I would ask the Minister to see whether he cannot do something to help these people. In this respect I would particularly call his attention to the question of the Channel tunnel.


The Channel tunnel was a private Bill. It does not in any way come under the responsibility of the Minister. It is not in the Estimate. If I allowed the hon. and gallant Gentleman to proceed, someone else would ask about some other tunnel.


I do not want to deal with legislation at all. I want to ask the Minister—


The Minister must be asked questions in relation to this Estimate. There is nothing in the Estimate for the Channel tunnel.


On a point of Order. Is it not in accordance with practice to discuss this matter in connection with marketing? The Ministry of Agriculture has had many representations from agriculturists interested in the market gardening industry as to the effect of competition from nearby European countries. Is it not important to ask as to the attitude of the Government on the question of the Channel tunnel, seeing the very large marketing vote that is included in the Estimate?


It would not be in order to ask about the Channel Tunnel at all. I must again inform hon. Members that in these Debates they are confined to the Estimates. Owing to the discussion which took place on the first day, I have allowed this Debate to be somewhat wider, but I must say that I think nearly every hon. Member who has spoken has been going very far wide of the Estimate.


I will obey your ruling and ask the Minister a question in regard to research into arable stock farming. This is a very important question for agriculture, and about a year ago the Ministry undertook investigations on several farms. Those investigations proved not very successful, and an assurance was given by the last Government that further investigations would be carried out, to see whether they could get any information from experiments. I would ask whether the Minister is making any experiments or investigations into arable stock farming, and whether, when he has received the results of the experiments, he will give them at once to the agricultural industry.


As representing a constituency where there is a great deal of milk production, I am exceedingly anxious to hear from the Minister what steps he has taken, or proposes to take, to deal with the very serious situation which is likely to arise with regard to the surplus milk which the present market cannot absorb. I would like to know whether he has taken any steps to impress upon the community the desirability of drinking more milk. I notice that certain traders who are interested in another liquid are spending between £2,000,000 and £3,000,000 a year on advertising the virtues of beer and spirits. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you know?"] It has been stated before the Royal Commission on Licensing by a representative of the liquor trade, in answer to a question from one of the Commissioners. It seems to me—and there is evidence on the hoardings that such a campaign is in being—that it needs some effort on the part of the Minister of Agriculture to counteract that invitation to absorb liquids of an intoxicating character. I am very sorry to observe that when farmers have an agricultural show, though they are supposedly very interested in milk, they are generally to be found at the bars where beer is sold, and it seems to me that they are not encouraging the general mass of the people by setting an example of that kind. Somebody ought to boost the virtues of milk.


What about hops?


I will leave that to the hon. Member, who represents a division of Kent. I want to be quite serious in suggesting that the situation is becoming one of very great urgency in all milk-producing districts, which, not only in the Midlands, but in the West of England, are very adversely affected, and are likely to be, during the next few months. Before long we shall have the fixing of the price of milk, and the farmers will be at a great disadvantage, with the tremendous surplus of milk that there will be, unless some means are taken to induce people to consume the available supplies. I want, therefore, to ask the Minister whether he has considered the suggestion which, I believe, was made by the hon. Member for Central Bristol (Mr. Alpass), that steps should be taken, during the five months when there is likely to be a glut of milk, to arrange for every school child for five days in the week to be supplied with milk. If steps of that kind were taken, if the local authorities were approached in order that they might buy milk under such conditions, and if the Ministry were willing to suggest a grant in aid of that, I believe the local authorities themselves would respond and help to create the milk drinking habit in children.


Would the hon. Member also press that the milk should be free from tuberculosis?


That goes without saying. I am not advocating the giving to children of anything which is as deleterious as beer. I want pure milk given, and the research department of the Ministry would, of course, be anxious that only the very best milk should be supplied. I believe, moreover, that the farmers would welcome a suggestion of this kind, and would be willing to supply milk at the very lowest rates, in order that they might thus be relieved of a great deal of their surplus milk, which in other circumstances would probably be given to the pigs. I therefore press on the Minister the importance of this suggestion, and I would further ask him if he would be willing to circularise the local authorities, asking them to convey to the education authorities a suggestion upon these lines.

It will be within the knowledge of a good many Members of this Committee that there has been very great difficulty with regard to the production of cream, and that British cream has lately suffered a great deal because of an Order of the Ministry of Health forbidding the use of boric acid. I want to ask whether the department of research at the Ministry has looked into that matter and is satisfied whether boric acid in small quantities can be safely added to cream as a preservative, and so help to reinforce the market in cream as against some of the artificial cream which is produced at the present time and very often, I am sorry to say, sold as British cream. That artificial cream, I understand, is in some cases a combination of milk powder and in other cases of sweet oil, and I suggest that this is a problem to which the Ministry should devote itself. In conclusion, I hope the Minister, when, he goes about the country, will take as his slogan in dairying and other districts, "Drink more milk."


I believe the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture does not even now fully appreciate the very serious condition of the agricultural industry. I should like to remind him of the state of affairs in his own part of the country and in my part of the country as well. In the last five years the crop of wheat has gone down by no less than 25,000 acres, which means that about 500 men have been left completely out of the industry with, it seems to me, very little chance of their being absorbed again. The income of the farmers in the last five years has decreased by about £1,000,000. What makes the position worse is, that in 1925 they were paying an average of 28s. 6d. as a minimum wage, whereas now they are paying an average of 30s. It is not that I wish to stress the amount which they are paying; what I wish to stress is the amount of their income—a definite loss of £1,000,000 in five years. The position which has arisen from that is exactly what we might have expected. Each year large quantities of land are being put down to grass. We have not the climate they have in the West where good grass grows very easily; it is a very difficult proposition with us, but it is going on steadily. I was talking to a constituent of mine the other day, and he told me that he had been to an iron-monger's shop in a small town to order some wire fencing in order to increase his pasture. He said that the man in charge of the ironmonger's shop told him that that very day he had sold to farmers 14 tons of wire for fencing. That will give the Committee an idea of what is going on.

There is also the financial position of the farmer. In Norfolk at the present time there is literally a deplorable state of affairs. The banks are carrying the farmers to a very great extent, and they are keeping them going, because they have an idea, I suppose, that there may be a chance one day of the industry recovering so that they may get back their money. That sort of feeling will not go on for ever. The banks are business corporations, and the day will surely come when they will think it necessary to cut their losses. What will happen in the county of Norfolk if that is brought about I really cannot imagine. It is a very serious thing, and I honestly feel that the Minister cannot possibly realise how serious it is.

I will give the Committee an instance of how it is affecting the unfortunate farmer. It is a perfectly true one. My wife met an old lady, the wife of a farmer, and the old lady said to her that she was very anxious about her husband because he would carry so much money about with him in his pocket. My wife said that she was very glad to hear that any farmer had any money at all, and the old lady replied, "Well, it is just like this. He has just sold some bullocks. He has the money in his pocket, and I am so worried because he will go to market with it, and I am afraid he will get it stolen." My wife said: "Why does he not put it into the bank?" The old lady replied that he dare not do that. If he did the bank would take it against his overdraft, and so he had to carry the money about in his pocket. That sort of thing is not good for any industry. It is very bad that members of any industry should be so much in the hands of the bank that they cannot lay their hands on any capital. It is undoubtedly the fact that in many cases when harvest comes some of the farmers in Norfolk will not have the money with which to pay their men. I do not think the Committee realise that that sort of thing can possibly exist, but it is an absolute fact that a great many Norfolk farmers will not have sufficient money with which to pay their harvest wages, in order to get in their crops. I hope that something may be done in order that the short-term credit scheme may be so extended that money can be found for that essential purpose.

The Minister of Agriculture has received, quite justly, commendations for the way in which the marketing schemes have gone forward, but is he perfectly satisfied with the way in which the egg marketing scheme is going? Does he consider that it is making as much progress as it ought to do, after its very admirable start? I would suggest to him that it might be speeded up, perhaps, if the method of paying the farmer for his eggs was slightly altered. At the present time the farmer delivers his eggs to the depot, where they are graded, and he receives a certain sum for the different grades. He does not see them graded and he does not know when he hands them over to the depot what sum he will get for the eggs. Farmers, like other people, are rather a suspicious race and they have a sort of idea that, perhaps, they do not get the right amount. I suggest that, if possible, after excluding the small eggs of under 1¼ ounces, if the other eggs that the farmer sends in were paid for by weight on the spot at the depot, you would gain very greatly the confidence of the farmers and they would make much more use of the depots. I do not think the depots will find it unprofitable, because I think the general experience is that if you exclude the 1¼ ounce eggs, you would find that among the others there are just as many over the standard size as there are under the standard size. Therefore, it is perfectly safe to pay on the standard weight.

There is also the question of the retail sale of eggs. Very often when eggs are sold in the big towns the distributor takes national mark eggs and when he gets them to his depot he mixes all the grades together and sells them, mixed, as best new laid eggs. He sells them, small or large, at the price of best new laid eggs. That is a very bad thing for the national mark, and I suggest to the Minister that he should—as I understand he has been advised to do by the National Farmers' Union and other bodies interested in poultry—insist that eggs should be sold either by designation or by weight.

In regard to the question of sugar-beet, the one thing which is more necessary in my judgment than anything else in order to assist this industry is a good plant. Some method must be found of properly milling the seed so that instead of sowing the pod we sow the seed itself. However, I will not bother the Committee with the technical side of this industry. I know that some work has been done at Cambridge, and it is quite within the bounds of possibility that this subject will be solved. If so it would do more to make the industry of sugar beet profitable than anything else. The farmer cannot undertake it, and the factories do not mind, because they are getting as much beet as they want. The Ministry could get the thing done if only they would realise its importance. We are all agreed that agriculture should be kept out of politics. I think the late Government did their best for the industry, but the measure of the importance of agriculture can be estimated by the small number of members who have taken the trouble to attend this Debate. In my judgment we shall never do anything for agriculture until all members of the agricultural community take a leaf out of the book of the miners and make themselves so objectionable to the Government of the day that they will have to do what they want, and I hope it will not be very long before all members of the agricultural community see fit to take that sensible course.


The Debate has reflected the heavy anxiety which hangs over a great part of the industry, and the large number of suggestions for administrative improvements indicate the desire of all parties to help the farmers. I have, on the one hand, to express my thanks for the sympathetic references of many hon. Members to the activities of the Ministry, and, on the other hand, to note that the Government is taken to task for not having announced its agricultural policy in the Debate upon the Estimates. You, Mr. Chairman, would have called me to order if I had attempted to discuss legislation, but I will only in passing note that if there has been delay in the announcement of the Government's policy, a much longer delay occurred in the time of the late Government before any announcement was made.

Viscount WOLMER

No, they passed five Acts of Parliament in the first Session.


The right hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) in the Debate last week expressed the difficulties he felt in reconciling the action of the Labour Government with past pronouncements. I could not help wondering, when he expressed sympathy with myself on this account, what may be his own feelings now, when his party have adopted proposals for Protection and subsidies, and he is inconveniently reminded of the cogent arguments which he used himself and which were used by his party not very long ago. As an administrative Act I might mention the White Paper of the late Government which said: Any general scheme of subsidies for agriculture is open to the gravest objection; and he himself on another occasion said: The benefits which some agriculturists assumed would be achieved by Protection were very much over-estimated. If it is inconvenient to be reminded of differing actions and pronouncements, we suffer together. The Noble Lord the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) offered a general condemnation of all Governments during the last 25 years. He showed that in his opinion agriculture has been the victim of shocking neglect ever since 1905, when he first entered the House. I also entered the House for the first time in that year, and I was particularly interested in this reflection. It is somewhat consoling to me to feel that out of those 25 years a Labour Government is responsible for only two. Ninety per cent. of the responsibility must be put down to other parties, and the charge which the Noble Lord made recoils in much greater measure on the head of each party except the Labour party.


Were you not a Liberal then?


I have been asked by several Members to say something about the proposal of the right hon. Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) for a conference of the three parties. We all heard his proposal with very great interest. I did not gather that the suggestion is welcomed with enthusiasm in all parts of the House, but we on our part are most willing to consult with all parties, and I myself have not waited till the suggestion was made to seek consultation with the leaders of the other parties. I understand, and I am delighted to say so, that the Prime Minister has extended an invitation to the Leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties to join in conferring upon agriculture, and to bring with them any colleagues they may choose with a view to finding common ground. I trust that they will be willing to accept the invitation. There is another conference about which I was asked for information, the Industry Conference, and two points were put to me about it: First, why had we not adopted the views of such an influential body? It is true that a resolution was adopted in general terms calling attention to the need of action to help cereal growing, but it is, perhaps singularly enough, a fact that the conference was not able to come to a unanimous decision upon any specific proposal of a political character for the treatment of agriculture.

Viscount WOLMER

Political proposals?


When I said political proposals, I meant general proposals, legislative proposals for the treatment of agriculture. No unanimous agreement was come to. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Guinness) suggested when he spoke last week, that the conference had been put into cold storage. He suggested that it had taken the bit between its teeth and had gone at a pace which was inconvenient to the Government. I think I ought to remove the impression which that suggestion may have conveyed and, indeed, I was asked why the conference had not lately met. It is not a fact that the conference was adjourned by the Government. There was a feeling among the members that there was no object in continuing to discuss proposals which had been fully debated. The conference, therefore, decided to adjourn, but I have have found from such members as I have been able to consult, that the desire is to hold the conference in readiness for a further meeting whenever material should be available for useful discussion. Therefore, I am guided by the desire of the members that there should be no finality at this moment, and it is the desire, as I find, that the conference should remain available. I must now do my best to answer the large number of inquiries which have been put to me on the administrative actions of the Government.

Viscount WOLMER

Can the right hon. Gentleman give us any idea as to when he is going to summon the agricultural conference again?


I shall be entirely guided by communications from Members whom I have informed that I trust they will let let me know whenever there is a desire in any part of the conference for further discussion. I was asked by the hon. and gallant Baronet the Member for Rye (Sir G. Courthope) whether it was not possible to use the administrative powers of the Ministry to exclude goods under certain conditions, for purposes of economic embargo. It transpires that he referred to the powers possessed under certain Acts, which are designed to exclude disease, and he was under the impression that those powers might be extended beyond the strict application of authority to exclude diseased products. That would be contrary to the International Convention for the abolition of prohibitions and restrictions on imports, and would be quite contrary to the principles on which the Acts are based. It would, in fact, be bringing in Protection by a side door, and it would certainly not be a legitimate or possible use of those Acts. The Ministry exercises the greatest severity in the administration of the Acts where there is any danger whatever of the introduction of new disease in the case of fruit and potatoes, and in many other directions.

That brings me to the question raised by several hon. Members as to potatoes. The facts are very interesting in regard to potatoes, because there has been an extraordinarily heavy supply both in 1928 and 1929. The slump has been entirely due to the abundance of the home crops. In 1929 the crop was 4½ per cent. greater than in 1928, and the slump in prices was due, not to imports, but to the extraordinary crops. The average imports of the five seasons ending 1927–28 in regard to September and April are only 3 per cent. of the total supply. In 1928–29 they were less than 1 per cent. Even the total prohibition of imports would be quite ineffective. The remedy, as was indicated by a number of hon. Members, is undoubtedly organisation among the producers, and concerted action by them, which would have the desired effect. It wants the best brains in the industry to organise on national lines.

One hon. Member said that the Ministry ought to help. The Ministry has issued a most valuable orange book, one of the "economic series," on the potato situation, which lays down the lines that should be followed in regard to marketing, statutory grades, and the disposal of surplus; and the Ministry would help on these lines to the utmost of their ability. I would suggest further that, if farmers would themselves ask for powers which will require legislation to make more easy the organisation of the producers as a whole, they would make a proposal that would deserve the most careful and favourable consideration, and I only hope that they will ask for organisation of that kind.

I was asked in regard to Algerian potatoes, which it was alleged were produced by convict labour. This question has been raised in the House more than once. It appears that the great bulk of Algerian potatoes are grown by smallholders who do not employ convict labour at all. There is one large potato-growing establishment which employs a certain amount of convict labour, and then it uses such labour for potatoes only when work on other crops is not available. The cost of the convict labour is much higher than that of free native labour. It is therefore not a fact that this convict labour enters into any appreciable extent into the competing power of the imported potatoes.

I have some difficulty in choosing between the very large number of interesting questions which have been raised. Swine fever was one, and I take due note of the suggestion made in regard to telephonic communication which might be further used by the inspectors. Swine fever raises the question of research, and I should like to say that research is being pursued at the Ministry's laboratory at Weybridge. Further attention ought to be, and will be, devoted under the general scheme of expansion of research which is contemplated, but research is hampered not by want of money so much as by the lack of trained research agents. It is that lack which has first to be supplied before any great progress can be made. That is the subject of inquiry by a subcommittee of the Economic Advisory Council, which I hope will very soon remedy the situation and enable progress to be more rapid. We are spending something like £50,000 a year on animal disease research. That is not enough; there ought to be expansion, and I hope there will be very shortly.

Both to-day and in the Debate last week I was asked several questions about milk. My hon. Friend the Member for Frome (Mr. Gould) raised the question of the marketing organisation. There, again, I would like to say that organisation is the main remedy. If producers will put forward schemes of organisation, if necessary with Government help through legislation, I should welcome them as a subject for inquiry which may produce results of the greatest possible value. The hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Hastings) raised last week another aspect of the milk question, and I wish to say a word on the operation of the Tuberculosis Order of 1925. Rapid eradication would not be practical without unduly depleting our herds and incurring enormous expense, but a great deal is being done. The Order covers the cases of cows giving tuberculous milk and also bovine animals infected in a much less dangerous way. The Order requires farmers to report cases, but it is sometimes difficult for others than experts to detect tuberculosis, and I have consulted with the Minister of Health on the extension of periodical veterinary inspection. The hon. Member asked if inspected farms were disinfected. The answer is that local authorities have full powers for that purpose under the Order. He also asked whether other cattle were examined. As a general rule they are. Possible "contacts" on the premises are all examined. The working of the Order is illustrated by these figures. Premises examined as a result of reports have declined from 21,000 in 1926 to 18,000 in 1929. The number of animals found infected and slaughtered also declined from 17,000 in 1926 to 15,000 in 1929. In 1929 there were 241,000 animals examined, and the animals infected within the terms of the Order worked out at 2.8 per cent. of the total number on the premises—a very different figure from that which was quoted the other day. Cows and heifers giving tuberculous milk numbered only 2,600, or 1.4 per cent. of the total number of cattle examined. An hon. Member behind me asked whether we could do anything with regard to extending the use of milk in schools. That is not a matter within my responsibility, but I will gladly communicate the suggestion to the President of the Board of Education.

The hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge (Captain Briscoe) raised the question of foot-and-mouth disease. It is a very satisfactory feature of the past year that immunity has attained a degree not known for many years. There were only 38 outbreaks in Great Britain, being the lowest number since 1917. The net cost of £41,000 was less than half the amount in 1928. The expenditure in 1923, which was the peak year, was actually 73 times greater than the expenditure last year. If I shall not break the spell by stating the facts, there has been complete freedom now since the 23rd December. That is the longest interval since 1918. It is really amazing to contrast the situation on the Continent. Against these 38 outbreaks, there were in France 22,000 and in Germany over 4,000. Research continues to be conducted by the committee which was set up in my time in 1924, and progress is steady, though we might wish that results had been more tangible than up to now.

The hon. and gallant Member for Cambridge also asked questions in regard to field drainage, and made a suggestion that the Ministry should facilitate the utilisation of these schemes by interim grants. It is the case that up to the present arrangements have not been made for the payment of interim grants to landowners during the progress of the work. Except where transferred labour is used, the amount of the Ministry's grant is one-third of the total cost, the remaining two-thirds being found by the owner. In the large majority of field drainage schemes the cost is less than £100, and it was thought in these circumstances that interim grants were not necessary. Moreover, the system of interim grants might increase the number of inspections of the work by the county councils, and so increase the cost of the administration. But the Ministry would much regret it if schemes of field drainage were not to be put in hand as the result of any difficulties in securing interim grants. I am prepared to notify county councils that in suitable cases interim grants would be made. A similar procedure would also be adopted in regard to the water supply grants for agricultural holdings which were initiated last year.

I am afraid time does not permit me to deal with other questions that have been raised, but perhaps I may say one word on a subject that has very frequently been raised in the House at Question time, namely, the exportation of horses for slaughter, which arouses very great interest among a large section of the public. I do feel that so much misrepresentation has prevailed that lovers of animals are entitled to know the facts, because their feelings are often unduly harassed on this matter. The facts ought to be known. The law prohibits the export to the Continent of any horses which are not fit to work without suffering. The requirements are very rigidly observed. I have myself visited the docks to see the horses embarked, and I have found a good class of horse was being exported. Over 99 per cent. of the horses exported for slaughter in 1929 went to Holland, where the use of the humane killer is compulsory. In France progress is being made. Very few horses are sent to France for this purpose, and there were only 29 last year. We have done our best to ensure the utmost possible humanity, but the first effective step would be to concentrate on humane slaughter in this country.

Reference has been made to the subject of party pledges, and perhaps I might be pardoned for drawing attention to the words of that great Conservative newspaper

the "Daily Mail." Within the last few days the "Daily Mail" said: The unfortunate farmers obtained cart-loads of promises from Mr. Baldwin on the eve of the 1924 Election.… The present state of agriculture is a bitter comment on the sincerity of this pledge. He came back to power, but once in office he forgot his promises, and used his power only to pass semi-Socialist measures, and to pile up new burdens on our industries. And he might do the same again.

Viscount WOLMER

Does the right hon. Gentleman believe all that he reads in the "Daily Mail"?


I am satisfied to leave it there. It is gratifying that there is no attack upon the Labour administration, and there is some praise of several of our activities. I have been asked to state what is the policy of the Labour party. The policy of the Labour party is on record with an exactness which, in the view of Lord Ernle, is greater than in the case of the policy of any other party. It is undoubtedly a policy which would help to make farming pay. When it is suggested that Bills should be brought in embodying this policy when no majority exists for them, it is not a suggestion that is very helpful. We must find measures which command a majority, and I hope that in connection with this Party Conference we may find common ground. There is perhaps a great deal of common ground between all parties, certainly between the Labour party and the Liberal party, and I trust that an opportunity will be found to pass those Measures into law.

Question put, "That a sum, not exceeding £1,332,210, be granted for the said Service."

The Committee divided: Ayes, 116; Noes, 248.

Division No. 301.] AYES. [11.0 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Castle Stewart, Earl of Edmondson, Major A. J.
Albery, Irving James Cautley, Sir Henry S. Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Christie, J. A. Ferguson, Sir John
Baillie-Hamilton, Hon. Charles W. Churchill, Rt. Hon. Winston Spencer Fison, F. G. Clavering
Balfour, Captain H. H. (I. of Thanet) Colfox, Major William Philip Ford, Sir P. J.
Beamish, Rear-Admiral T. P. H. Colman, N. C. D. Forestler-Walker, Sir L.
Bird, Ernest Roy Colville, Major D. J. Ganzoni, Sir John
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft. Courthope, Colonel Sir G. L. Gault, Lieut.-Col. Andrew Hamilton
Boyce, H. L. Cranborne, Viscount Gilmour, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John
Bracken, B. Croft, Brigadier-General Sir H. Gower, Sir Robert
Brass, Captain Sir William Crookshartk, Opt. H. (Lindsey, Gainsbro) Graham, Fergus (Cumberland, N.)
Briscoe, Richard George Croom-Johnson, R. P. Greene, W. P. Crawford
Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham) Cunliffe- Lister, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Dalkeith, Earl of Guinneas, Rt. Hon. Walter E.
Buchan, John Davies, Dr. Vernon Gunston, Captain D. W.
Butler, R. A. Davison, Sir W. H. (Kensington, S.) Hanbury, C.
Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Duckworth, G. A. V. Haslam, Henry C.
Carver, Major W. H. Dugdale, Capt. T. L. Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)
Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. O'Neill, Sir H. Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. William Spender-Clay, Colonel H.
Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G. Peake, Capt. Osbert Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. sir Arthur
Hunter-Weston, Lt.-Gen. Sir Aylmer Ramsbotham, H. Thomson, Sir F.
Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Remer, John R. Tinne, J. A.
Kindersley, Major G. M. Rentoul, Sir Gervais S. Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Lamb, Sir J. O. Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell Train, J.
Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R. Ross, Major Ronald D. Turton, Robert Hugh
Leighton, Major B. E. P. Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A. Vaughan-Morgan, sir Kenyon
Llewellin, Major J. J. Russell, Alexander West (Tynemouth) Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Locker-Lampson, Com. O. (Handsw'th) Salmon, Major I. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Lymington, Viscount Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Makins, Brigadier-General E. Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir Philip A. G. D. Wells, Sydney R.
Margesson, Captain H. D. Savery, S. S. Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)
Marjoribanks, E. C. Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Mason, Colonel Glyn K. Simms, Major-General J. Wolmer, Rt. Hon. Viscount
Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Smith, R. W. (Aberd'n & Kine'dine, C.) Womersley, W. J.
Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr) Smithers, Waldron TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Muirhead, A. J. Somerville, A. A. (Windsor) Sir George Penny and Sir Victor
Newton, Sir D. G. C. (Cambridge) Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East) Warrender.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Egan, W. H. Logan, David Gilbert
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Elmley, Viscount Longbottom, A. W.
Alpass, J. H. Evans, Capt. Ernest (Welsh Univer.) Lovat-Fraser, J. A.
Arnott, John Foot, Isaac Lunn, William
Aske, sir Robert Forgan, Dr. Robert Macdonald, Gordon (Ince)
Attlee, Clement Richard Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Seaham)
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Gibbins, Joseph MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw)
Baldwin, Oliver (Dudley) Gibson, H. M. (Lancs. Mossley) McElwee, A.
Barnes, Alfred John Gossling, A. G. McEntee, V. L.
Barr, James Gould, F. McKinlay, A.
Batey, Joseph Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton) MacLaren, Andrew
Bellamy, Albert Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.) Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.)
Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne) MacNeill-Weir, L.
Bennett, Captain E. N. (Cardiff, Central) Grenfell, D. H. (Glamorgan) McShane, John James
Benson, G. Griffiths, T. (Monmouth, Pontypool) Malone, C. L'Estrange (N'thampton)
Bentham, Dr. Ethel Groves, Thomas E. March, S.
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Grundy, Thomas W. Marcus, M.
Blindell, James Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Markham, S. F.
Bondfield, Rt. Hon. Margaret Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn) Marley, J.
Bowen, J. W. Harbord, A. Marshall, Fred
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Hardie, George D. Mathers, George
Broad, Francis Alfred Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernon Matters, L. W.
Brockway, A. Fenner Hastings, Dr. Somerville Maxton, James
Bromfield, William Haycock, A. W. Melville, Sir James
Bromley, J. Hayday, Arthur Messer, Fred
Brooke, W. Hayes, John Henry Mills, J. E.
Brothers, M. Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Milner, Major J.
Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield) Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.) Morgan, Dr. H. B.
Brown, W. J. (Wolverhampton, West) Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) Morley, Ralph
Buchanan, G. Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh)
Burgess, F. G. Herriotts, J. Mort, D. L.
Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland) Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Moses, J. J. H.
Buxton, Rt. Hon. Noel (Norfolk, N.) Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Mosley, Sir Oswald (Smethwick)
Caine, Derwent Hall- Hopkin, Daniel Muff, G.
Cameron, A. G. Horrabin, J. F. Muggeridge, H. T.
Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)
Charieton, H. C. Hunter, Dr. Joseph Noel Baker, P. J.
Chater, Daniel Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R. Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston)
Church, Major A. G. Isaacs, George Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley)
Clarke, J. S. Johnston, Thomas Palin, John Henry
Cluse, W. S. Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint) Paling, Wilfrid
Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Palmer, E. T.
Cocks, Frederick Seymour Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Perry, S. F.
Compton, Joseph Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.
Cove, William G. Jowitt, Rt. Hon. Sir W. A. Phillips, Dr. Marion
Daggar, George Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Picton-Torbervill, Edith
Dallas, George Kennedy, Thomas Pole, Major D. G.
Dalton, Hugh Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Potts, John S.
Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton) Kinley, J. Price, M. P.
Day, Harry Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Pybus, Percy John
Denman, Hon. R. D. Law, Albert (Bolton) Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Dickson, T. Law, A. (Rosendale) Raynes, W. R.
Dudgeon, Major C. R. Lawrence, Susan Richards, R.
Dukes, C. Lawson, John James Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)
Duncan, Charles Leach, W. Riley, Ben (Dewsbury)
Ede, James Chuter Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tees)
Edge, Sir William Lees, J. Ritson, J.
Edmunds, J. E. Lewis, T. (Southampton) Roberts. Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich)
Edwards, E. (Morpeth) Lloyd, C. Ellis Romeril, H. G.
Rosbotham, D. S. T. Smith, Frank (Nuneaton) Walker, J.
Rowson, Guy Smith, Ronnie (Penistone) Wallace, H. W.
Runciman, Rt. Hon Walter Smith, Tom (Pontefract) Wellhead, Richard C.
Salter, Dr. Alfred Smith, W. R. (Norwich) Watson, W. M. (Dunlermline).
Samuel, Rt. Hon. Sir H. (Darwen) Snell, Harry Wellock, Wilfred
Samuel, H. W. (Swansea, West) Snowden, Rt. Hon. Philip Welsh, James (Paisley)
Sanders, W. S. Snowden, Thomas (Accrington) Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Sandham, E. Sorensen, R. West, F. R.
Sawyer, G. F. Stamford, Thomas W. Westwood, Joseph
Scurr, John Stephen, Campbell White, H. G.
Sexton, James Stewart, J. (St. Rollox) Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Shakespeare, Geoffrey H. Strachey, E. J. St. Loe Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston) Strauss, G. R. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Shepherd, Arthur Lewis Sullivan, J. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Sherwood, G. H. Sutton, J. E. Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Shield, George William Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln) Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Shield, Dr. Drummond Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.) Wilson, C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Shillaker, J. F. Thomas, Rt. Hon. J. H. (Derby) Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Shinwell, E. Thurtle, Ernest Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Short, Alfred (Wednesbury) Tinker, John Joseph Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Loughb'gh)
Simmons, C. J. Tout, W. J. Young, Robert (Lancaster, Newton)
Sinkinson, George Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Sitch, Charles H. Turner, B. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Smith, Alfred (Sunderland) Vaughan, D. J. Mr. Allen Parkinson and Mr.
Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe) Viant, S. P. Charles Edwards.

Original Question, again proposed.

It being after Eleven of the Clock, and objection being taken to further Proceeding, the CHAIRMAN left the Chair to make his Report to the House.

Committee report Progress; to sit again To-morrow.

The remaining Orders of the Day were read, and postponed.